As a part of ‘The 12 Project’, I went to Thailand. My trip in Thailand was to learn Rock Climbing. But even with this objective I did get to see and experience a lot of the country. In fact, rock climbing took me to places that normal travelers never get to see.
Another challenge beyond learning rock climbing was to spend 30 days in the cheapest possible way. I had to use a lot of things learnt from past journeys and try new ways to keep costs low.
In the end I spent the entire month in Thailand for just 48,000 INR(or 750 USD). This includes everything from visa to flights, food & stay. Even entry fees, some must-dos like going to the snake farm, thai massage ; etc
Here I share my financial experience for anyone who wants to backpack to Thailand at the lowest possible cost.
STEP ONE: FLIGHTS
I started planning this trip a couple of months in advance. That’s the least time you need to get the best flight prices. I used Skyscanner and Kayak apps to get comparative flight prices to Bangkok from Mumbai. At the same time I searched for flights from other locations in India. And voila! From Kolkata there was a return flight to Bangkok on Indigo for 8000 INR( 130 USD).
So what would have cost me 15-16k from Mumbai was half the price from Kolkata on Indigo. This was a great offer, but what about getting to Kolkata? If I had taken a flight, the overall cost would have ended up the same.
So I took the train to Kolkata. Yes it takes more than a day. But when you save money, you have to spend something. And that is mostly time.
The train tickets(second class sleeper) were dirt cheap at 740 INR( 12 USD) one way. Well it is not the most comfortable of rides, but at the price you cannot expect anything better.
STEP TWO: IN BANGKOK:
Hostelworld, hostelbookers and bookings.com are all good websites/apps to look for hostels. In my experience hostelbookers has that one hostel that is the cheaper than all others listed on otherwebsites. the others.
In this case, I went for the cheapest hostel in Bangkok – The Overstay. At 125 bahts/ 250 INR/ 4 USD per night it was a steal. The hostel looks like a squat but isn’t as bad as it looks. In fact, it is quite a fun place. There is something happening all the time – rock shows, interesting people and late night conversations. If you dig all that and don’t mind patchy air conditioning, this place is definitely or you. But remember you are paying 4 dollars a night, so don’t have lofty expectations.
NEXT, DAILY EXPENSES:
Bangkok is a pretty cheap city to eat and commute. Let’s talk about food first.
If you eat street food(many street stalls have proper sit down) you will never have to worry about how much you spend. In tourist areas, a meal(rice or noodles with curry) could go up to 120 bahts(240 INR/ 4 USD). If you walk a little and get outside tourist area limits you will save even more. I used to lunch at about 50 bahts(two portions of rice and two different curries plus a cola). That is 100 Indian rupees. It’s a sweet deal right? I would say about 80 baht(160INR) budget for each meal on the street is pretty good. And you can occasionally indulge yourself in something expensive or a nice dessert(which is also pretty cheap).
There is a wide variety of dishes to choose from. Pad-Thai(stir fried noodle snack), rice with curries, soup dishes; etc. If you are a vegetarian, then there is less variety but you won’t die of starvation.
Tip: Walk around a bit, get out of your hostel area and you will discover good deals on food, fruits and many other things.
Bangkok has a very good transport system. Especially if you are from India, you will like it even more. Public transport is efficient and absolutely great value for money. I stayed away from taxis and tuk-tuks because they tend to be far more expensive and the drivers try to rig you. Plus shorter distances are fun to walk, because you get to see so much more.
Buses are really cheap – you just need to know the number and the destination. Get someone to write the destination, address for you in Thai. It will come in handy. I never paid more than 20 bahts(40 INR/ 0.7 USD) for a single ride. Plus, people on the bus are really helpful, so I never faced a problem. It is really non-touristic way of getting around Bangkok.
MRT or the underground metro is another way to get around. Again, they are quite good and simple to use. Follow the map, know the specific station you need to get to and you will be good. You can either buy tickets off the counter or use simple to use vending machines. The most I paid was 34 bahts(68 INR/ 1 USD)when I traveled almost the entire line from Bang Sue to Silom.
BTS or Skytrain: this is the overground elevated transport service. It is pretty efficient and probably the most recent addition to the city’s commuter system. It’s a higher priced than the buses and the metro, but still quite reasonable. You can also enquire for a pass if you stay longer. I did not use them though.
Ferry: there are ferry services as well. I did not use them much except to get to Nonthaburi at 20 bahts. 40 rupees for a beautiful ride on the Chao Praya river. I totally recommend it.
If you stick to these options you will spend about 60-80 bahts(120-160 INR) on commute on an average day. The most I spent was 150 bahts on a packed day of commuting.
Tip: Bangkok is a huge city. Rather than looking at places to visit, you are better focusing on a locality. Then look for all attractions in the locality. That way you get to see more, walk around to explore the culinary offerings and also save extra money you spend on transport.
STEP THREE: FROM BANGKOK TO TONSAI
I had to get to Ton Sai, a wonderful place to rock climb. However, to get there one has to cross Krabi. It is quite a popular destination in the south.
I relied on travel agents as suggested by people but later realized that wasn’t the most cost effective. All travel agents add a margin. I paid 900 for a ticket that cost 600 bahts. So you live and learn.
Tip: The best thing to do is to go to the bus station a couple of hours early and buy your ticket. Apart from long weekends and national holidays, getting a seat should be no sweat. If you don’t like the uncertainty, then walk around on Khao San Road(backpacker area) and look for the travel agent offering the best price.
STEP FOUR: IN TONSAI
I reached Ton Sai after crossing Krabi, getting to Ao Nang in a tempo and then taking a boat to Tonsai. From Krabi to Tonsai cost me 160 bahts(320 INR/ 5 USD).
Ton Sai is a small beach with trekking trails and rock climbing routes. It is almost attached to Railay which is another beautiful set of beaches. You can easily relax, rejuvenate and indulge in some outdoor activity here for a week. I stayed there for three since I wanted to spend as much time as possible rock climbing.
If you arrive in the low season – post April, this place is really cheap. If you bargain, it is possible to get a room to yourself with a queen bed and a verandah at just 200 bahts(400 INR/ 7 USD). But be ready to bargain and for a longer stay, say at least 5 nights.
I stayed at a small nice place called Pansook resort(its anything but a resort). Frogs, lizards and monkeys will pay you a visit, but that is part of the fun in Tonsai. No matter where you stay, you will find these intruders (or maybe we are intruding their environment).
Tonsai & Railay can be reached by boat. So food and stay here is a bit more expensive than say, Bangkok. There are lesser options. But it is still pretty good value for money. Plus it will be one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. Bonus – you will also meet the nicest of travelers here.
But setting a budget and sticking to it will help make it even cheaper.
Drinking water is expensive. Buy the bigger 20 litre bottle for 60 baht and 150 baht deposit. It will save you a lot of money than buying 2 ltr bottles regularly.
Food , as mentioned, is not as cheap as Bangkok but is still quite reasonable. And delicious. Breakfast should be a 100 baht(200INR/ 3 USD). Muesli with fruits & yoghurt can be had for 70 or 80 bahts and a cup of coffee at 30. You could try other things like rice soup or sticky rice. But 120 is the tops that you end up spending unless you order three – four dishes for yourself.
Lunch and dinner are the same pattern. If you order a single main course dish, it will cost about 80-100 and with a really nice & fresh fruit shake to go along at another 50. So 150 bahts(300 INR/5USD) should be a comfortable lunch for you. Me and my friends would spend less even while rock climbing. So if that’s not enough, then you just might be binging J
Choose one of the many smaller restaurants anywhere in Tonsai or Railay. They charge pretty much the same. Two recommendations I have for food are: ‘Mom’s chicken’ and ‘Sao Legacy’. Both are located in Tonsai. The first one does great food especially the barbeque chicken and the second does huge portions. After a hard day at the rocks, Sao Legacy was our preferred place to go.
Now the important part: Drinks:
Everyone loves a drink or two while traveling right? I do too. But I tend to drink much less when traveling than back home. May be because I walk so much and am so active that I don’t like alcohol to slow me down. Plus it just seems to be a better lifestyle. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a few drinks on every trip. I do.
But drinking can make your trip expensive. If you don’t budget and watch how much you drink it can become the single biggest expense. I avoid that by making drinking a once-in-a-few-days affair. Pints in Tonsai/ Railay cost about 70 bahts(140 INR/ 2 USD). So have a pint with every meal and you have spent about 700 bahts at the end of the week.
I would turn beers into reward points. So for every three – four days of climbing I would get two pints. So rather than having just one and not even feeling it, I would have two and also feel great about it.
Other drinks are equally expensive if not more. Another cheap option is local rum. Some friends had it and liked it. I never felt the need to try it out.
STEP FIVE: BACK TO BANGKOK
On my way back I bought a ticket at Krabi bus station for some 650 bahts(1300 INR) to get back to Bangkok. This time I had an offer from a couchsurfer to host me for two nights, which I delightfully accepted.
Tip: Couchsurfing did not work that much for me in Thailand. Not sure whether hosts were genuinely busy or preferred hosting westerners & women. Whenever you have the time do send couch requests. But surely you cannot depend on it.
The same calculations applied in the last few days in Bangkok. This time around I got a massage done(150 bahts), watched a movie(160 bahts) and did have a few beers.
So all in all I ended up spending 750 USD(48,000 INR) for the entire trip. Here is the table of break up.
|Expenses||Per Day Average Budget||Total I spent|
|Visa fees for 30 days( for 15 days – Indians have visa on arrival in Thailand)||2000 INR/ 32 USD|
|Thai SIM card plus top up||700INR/ 11 USD|
|Return flight(Kolkata- Bangkok) + airport taxis||8000 INR/ 126 USD|
|Airport taxis(Kolkata stn to airport)||800 INR/ 13 USD|
|Train from Mumbai to Kolkata & return(plus expenses on the train)||2000 INR/ 32 USD|
|Bangkok stay||313 INR/ 5 USD||1250 INR/ 20 USD|
|Bangkok daily expenses(food + commute)||600 INR/ 10 USD||4800 INR/ 76 USD|
|Bangkok other expenses(entry fees, massage and on the spot discretionary expenses)||200 INR/ 3.5 USD||1300 INR/ 21 USD|
|Bangkok – Krabi bus( return – paid less while return – read the blog above)||3100 INR/ 50 USD|
|Krabi – Ao Nang- Tonsai & return||640 INR/ 10 USD|
|Tonsai Stay||400 INR/ 6.5USD||8000 INR/ 126 USD|
|Tonsai daily expenses(food + drinks)||800 INR/ 13 USD||15400 INR/ 242 USD|
|Total||48000 INR/ 755 USD|
If you want to stay long and learn rock climbing, my suggestion is make friends with experienced climbers. That way its more challenging and you will go to more places than most classes take you.
If you are buying rock climbing shoes( you will need them) and hiring equipment, you could try what I did. I asked shops for second hand shoes and one called Tex Climbing Shop in Railay east had one good pair for 1700 bahts.
I even asked around for equipment hire and got the best rates at Basecamp Tonsai. I got less than half of what they would charge for ten days.
Here are details.
|Shoes – bought second hand||3400INR/ 54 USD|
|Equipment hire for 10 days(was split between three of us)||5700 INR/ 90 USD|
|Total||9100 INR/ 143 USD|
This is how I spent thirty wonderful days in a country I will return to many times in this lifetime. Hope my experience gives you some pointers to do a frugal yet fruitful trip to Thailand.
If you have tips of your own, add in the comments for others to use. If you have questions, leave a comment – I will get back to you as soon as I can.